Reprinted from Smirking Chimp
The fast-track authority legislation for the Trans-Pacific Partnership recently passed by Congress says we can't make "trade" agreements like TPP with countries that violate human rights. There is a report that to get around this rule the administration is going to declare the worst violators of human rights to be OK after all.
The still-secret TPP is close to being completed. Once that happens it comes to Congress. But the trade promotion authority law that preceded it prohibits the U.S. from entering into "trade" agreements with "tier 3" human-trafficking countries.
According to news reports, the Obama administration found an easy -- and extremely cynical -- fix: just change Malaysia's rating to a "tier 2." Problem solved. But human rights groups, labor and members of Congress are "outraged," "shocked" and "deeply disturbed." They are trying to warn the State Department off from doing this.
One of the sticking points with TPP has been Malaysia's "widespread forced labor and worker abuse." The State Department's Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report was supposed to be released in June but was delayed. Now it appears the Obama administration might be solving the problem by changing the TIP rating of Malaysia to a "Tier 2" even though there is little change in Malaysia's actual performance.
Human trafficking? Slavery? Sex slaves? People kept in cages? Mass graves? Abuse of workers? No problem. Just tell the State Department to ignore it. If this happens the Obama administration will undermine the integrity of our country's human rights efforts to increase the profit and power of a few giant multinational corporations.
Reuters broke the story, in "Exclusive -- U.S. upgrades Malaysia in annual human trafficking report: sources":
"The United States is upgrading Malaysia from the lowest tier on its list of worst human trafficking centres, U.S. sources said on Wednesday, a move that could smooth the way for an ambitious U.S.-led free-trade deal with the Southeast Asian nation and 11 other countries.
"[...] Some U.S. lawmakers and human-rights advocates had expected Malaysia to remain on Tier 3 this year given its slow pace of convictions in human-trafficking cases and pervasive trafficking in industries such as electronics and palm oil."
What next? Name Brunei and Vietnam -- other problematic TPP participants -- as human rights and worker paradises?
"Among the 12 TPP countries, Brunei has also come under attack by human-rights groups for adopting Islamic criminal law, which includes punishing offences such as sodomy and adultery with death, including by stoning. Vietnam's Communist government has been criticized for jailing dissidents."
Emergency Call With Senator Menedez
Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) organized a Friday morning media call to explain the background and what is known about this report. On the call were human rights advocates as well. On the call Senator Menendez said that the fast track rule prohibiting trade deals with TIP "Tier 3" countries was a "clear bipartisan statement of principles" and Malaysia's TIP rating has "no reason to be raised." There should not be "political interference" with the Trafficking In Persons report. He has faith in the staff of the State Department and their integrity, they are good people who are trying to do their jobs, but worries about political interference from higher up.
Menendez said, "if true looks like cynical maneuver to get around the clear intent of Congress," and that the "integrity of US international human rights leadership in my view is at stake." The administration "appears to be giving Malaysia a sweetheart deal."
"Undermining TIP report is an incredibly dangerous proposition."
Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice advocate organization ("Nuns on the bus"), said there is a "moral consequence of moving in any direction that gives permission for human trafficking." "Pope Francis said people of good will must not allow these men women and children to be treated as objects."
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